FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Making a Bigger Occu(pie)

With the various Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, talk of economic and social fairness is in the air. Demonstrators are complaining about the vast inequalities in wealth and political influence between the rich 1 percent or so and the remaining 99 percent.

Are the complaints morally legitimate? A key point must be made. Wealth (and influence) inequality per se does not mean unfairness. One analogy is the classroom. Inequality of grades does not imply unfairness. How those grades are acquired matters.

Similarly, there can be unequal, yet fair, wealth distributions. How the wealth inequalities are arrived at matters. If obtained through reasonably equal social opportunities (and no cheating), then wealth inequalities might well be fair.

Are wealth inequalities in the United States obtained through a reasonably equal opportunity process?

Unfortunately the answer is no. Wealthier kids start off with numerous advantages — in terms of nutrition, safety, emotional support, intellectual stimulation, access to better schools, etc. Not by accident, most wealthy kids end up wealthy adults, and most poorer kids end up poorer adults.

Reducing this opportunities gap is possible within a free-market setting. A free market produces winners and losers— and wealthier and poorer classes. Yet if the competition is initially fair, there will be little cause for indignation. To make the competition fair, some of a free-market system’s wealth must go to create and maintain the equal opportunity conditions for each generation of children.

As the philosopher John Rawls put it, a key way of telling if a social wealth gap is fair is to see if it is better at helping the worst off than alternative social arrangements. If a wealth gap is the best way of helping the worst off, then that wealth gap is fair (even if large).

Clearly the current wealth inequalities in this country do not fare well on Rawls’ test. Our wealth gap does not sufficiently help the worst off, in terms of opportunities. The wealth gaps in countries like Canada or Norway do much better. Social mobility is currently much greater in those countries.

Can our current partial free-market system improve these equal-access conditions? Sure, but large interests stand in the way. These improvements are at the heart of what the protesters want. They may lash out at obscene symptoms of unfairness — such as the rich co-opting government to bail out “too big too fail” investments, or GE’s paying few if any taxes, or huge spending on crazy wars. But these are only symptoms and tipping points.

Carlo Filice is chairman of the Philosophy Department at Geneseo State College in New York.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
February 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Timothy M. Gill
Why is the Venezuelan Government Rejecting U.S. Food Supplies?
John Pilger
The War on Venezuela is Built on Lies
Andrew Levine
Ilhan Omar Owes No Apologies, Apologies Are Owed Her
Jeffrey St. Clair
That Magic Feeling: the Strange Mystique of Bernie Sanders
David Rosen
Will Venezuela Crisis Split Democrats?
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump’s National Emergency Is The Exact Same As Barack Obama’s National Emergency
Paul Street
Buried Alive: The Story of Chicago Police State Racism
Rob Seimetz
Imagined Communities and Omitting Carbon Emissions: Shifting the Discussion On Climate Change
Ramzy Baroud
Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow
Michael Welton
Dreaming Their Sweet Dreams: a Peace to End Peace
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming’s Monster Awakens
Peter Bolton
As the Coup Attempt in Venezuela Stumbles, It’s Time that Guaidó Recognize that Regime Change has Failed
Huma Yasin
Chris Christie Spins a Story, Once Again
Ron Jacobs
Twenty-First Century Indian Wars
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Venezuela: a Long History of Hostility
Lance Olsen
Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts
Louis Proyect
El Chapo and the Path Taken
Fred Gardner
“She’s Willie Brown’s Protogé!” The Rise of Kamala Harris
John W. Whitehead
Rule by Fiat: National Crises, Fake Emergencies and Other Dangerous Presidential Powers
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Biomass is Not “Green”: an Interview With Josh Schlossberg
John Feffer
Answering Attacks on the Green New Deal
W. T. Whitney
US Racism and Imperialism Fuel Turbulence in Haiti
Kim Ives
How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti
Mike Ferner
What War Films Never Show You
Lawrence Wittner
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
James Graham
A Slow Motion Striptease in France
Dave Lindorff
Could Sanders 2.0 Win It All, Getting the Democratic Nomination and Defeating Trump?
Jill Richardson
Take It From Me, Addiction Doesn’t Start at the Border
Yves Engler
Canada and the Venezuela Coup Attempt
Tracey L. Rogers
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
Gary Leupp
The Sounds of Silence
Dan Bacher
Appeals Court Rejects Big Oil’s Lawsuit Against L.A. Youth Groups, City of Los Angeles
Robert Koehler
Are You White, Black or Human?
Ralph Nader
What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!
Cesar Chelala
The Blue Angel and JFK: One Night in Camelot
Sarah Schulz
Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency, Naked Capitalism Is
James Campbell
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Corregidor’s Iconography of Empire
Jonah Raskin
The Muckraking Novelist Dashiell Hammett: A Red Literary Harvest
Kim C. Domenico
Revolutionary Art and the Redemption of the Local
Paul Buhle
Life and Crime in Blue Collar Rhode Island
Eugene Schulman
J’Accuse!
Nicky Reid
Zionists are the Most Precious Snowflakes
Jim Goodman
The Green New Deal Outlines the Change Society Needs
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail